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How Do You Pot "Harry Potter"?

Date: Jun 12, 2012


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In paperback, the 7 Harry Potter novels have 4,167 pages, and those pages contain dozens of stories and hundreds of characters. But if you don't have time to read (or re-read) the books, you can always catch Potted Potter, a stage show that reduces the entire saga to 70 minutes with two actors.

Written by and starring Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner (better known as Dan and Jeff), the show, which is now playing at the Little Shubert, may not be authorized, but it's still brimming with Potter enthusiasm. In fact, Clarkson and Turner are still sad they had to cut some of their favorite scenes and characters in order to streamline the material. "A lot of times it was just chuck out 500 pages so I can wear a silly hat and put on a funny voice," Clarkson says.

But while Clarkson jokes about the seemingly haphazard nature of the production, he and Turner have crafted it with care. They've built the entire piece around the relationship between the young wizard Harry and his archrival Voldemort, and they've worked to make each book distinct. For example, book seven is a song and book three is a PowerPoint presentation.

The latter gimmick came about because when they began writing the show, the duo used Clarkson's brother's books for research. He didn't actually own the third novel, however, and Clarkson and Turner thought it would be funny to incorporate that setback into their material. Now, "Dan" has to tell the story on the spot, without handy reference tools. (Clarkson and Turner play "Jeff" and "Dan," exaggerated versions of themselves. Jeff is the serious know-it-all and Dan is the clueless goof-off.)

The pair met in 2005 when Clarkson found Turner busking in London's Covent Garden. Clarkson happened to be looking for someone to play Harry at a midnight release party for the sixth book. "I think I've got the looks to play Johnny Depp, but it's obvious I'm not a Daniel Radcliffe type," he jokes.

For that book launch, Dan and Jeff performed the first five books in five minutes. In 2006, the show was expanded to six books in an hour and became Potted Potter. The seventh novel was incorporated shortly after its release.

After six years of Potted Potter, Clarkson and Turner are still finding ways to keep things fresh. "If it had been the same the whole time, we'd have stopped a long time ago," Turner says. "The beauty of what we're doing is it's our own stuff. We can change it."

Sometimes, rewrites are unavoidable, like when pop culture jokes get stale. References that have come and gone include Cedric Diggory suddenly becoming a glittery vampire, J.K. Rowling outing Dumbledore, and Rihanna's "Umbrella."

Meanwhile, thanks to audience participation, the show is never the same twice. "We knew there would be children in the audience and about two-thirds of the way or halfway through, you try and do something a bit interactive to make sure the kids are still entertained," Turner says. That includes an on-stage version of Quidditch using a beach ball and a human snitch (Turner in gold lycra). Adults are just as involved in the game, sometimes more aggressively than their children, and that's just the atmosphere Turner and Clarkson strive to create.

"When we were both kids, our dads would take us to the theatre and watch TV and we would laugh at the same things, and that's what we were trying to recreate," says Turner. "Because the books appeal to adults and kids, I think that gave us a bit of a head start, but it also makes us work harder at the comedy. It's quite easy to make someone laugh by making a character like Harry Potter swear or something like that, you could get a laugh for that, but not being able to do that because it's kid friendly hopefully makes it a bit funnier."


Linda Buchwald writes for StageGrade and tweets about theatre as @PataphysicalSci

Photo by Carol Rosegg